Symptoms and Staging of Lung Cancer

Usually lung cancer does not cause signs and symptoms in its earliest stages. Signs and symptoms of lung cancer occur only when the disease is advanced and are different depending upon where and how widespread the tumor is.

Updated: June 16, 2022

Usually lung cancer does not cause signs and symptoms in its earliest stages. Signs and symptoms of lung cancer occur only when the disease is advanced and are different depending upon where and how widespread the tumor is.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer:

A person with lung cancer may have the following kinds of symptoms:

No symptoms:

Lung cancer may not cause pain or other symptoms in some cases.  The cancer is first detected on a routine chest X-ray or CT scan as a solitary small mass called as coin lesion. These patients with small, single masses often report no symptoms at the time the cancer is detected.

Symptoms related to the cancer:

The growth of the cancer and invasion of lung tissues and surrounding tissue may interfere with breathing, leading to symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain, and coughing up blood known as hemoptysis. It may cause shoulder pain that travels down the outside of the arm or paralysis of the vocal cords leading to hoarseness if the cancer has invaded nerves. There may be difficulty swallowing because of invasion of the esophagus . If a large airway is obstructed, collapse of a portion of the lung may occur and cause infections such as abscesses and pneumonia, in the obstructed area.

Symptoms related to metastasis:

Lung cancer that has spread to the bones may produce severe pain. Cancer that has spread to the brain may cause a number of neurological symptoms that may include blurred vision, headaches, seizures, or symptoms of stroke such as weakness or loss of sensation in parts of the body.

Paraneoplastic symptoms:

These symptoms result from production of hormone-like substances by the tumor cells. In cushing's syndrome, the excess production of a hormone called adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) by the cancer cells, leading to oversecretion of the hormone cortisol by the adrenal glands. These paraneoplastic syndromes occur most commonly with SCLC but may be seen with any tumor type.
The production of a substance similar to parathyroid hormone, resulting in elevated levels of calcium in the bloodstream is the most frequent paraneoplastic syndrome seen with NSCLC.

Nonspecific symptoms:

Weight loss, weakness and fatigue are some of the nonspecific symptoms seen in lung cancers. Psychological symptoms such as depression and mood changes also are common.
You should consult a health-care professional if he or she develops the symptoms associated with lung cancer, in particular, if you have

  •     a new persistent cough or worsening of an existing chronic cough,
  •     blood in the sputum
  •     chest pain
  •     persistent bronchitis or repeated respiratory infections,
  •     breathing difficulties such as shortness of breath or wheezing
  •     unexplained weight loss and/or fatigue

Lung Cancer Staging:

The stage of a cancer is a measure of the extent to which a cancer has spread in the body. Evaluation of size of the cancer and its penetration into surrounding tissue as well as the presence or absence of metastases in the lymph nodes or other organs are part of staging. This will help determine how a particular cancer should be treated as lung-cancer therapies are geared toward specific stages.
To determine the stage of a lung cancer a number of test can be done, including blood chemistry tests, X-rays, CT scans, bone scans, MRI scans, and PET scans. Abnormal blood chemistry tests may signal the presence of metastases in bone or liver. Radiological procedures can determine the size of a cancer as well as its spread.
There are four stages in order of severity in case of NSCLC. These are:

  • In stage 1, the cancer is confined to the lung.
  • In stages 2 and 3, the cancer is confined to the chest. Larger and more invasive tumors are classified as stage 3.
  • Stage 4 cancer has spread from the chest to other parts of the body.

A two-tiered system is used to determine treatment for SCLC. These include:

  • Limited-stage (LS) SCLC refers to cancer that is confined to its area of origin in the chest.
  • In extensive-stage (ES) SCLC, the cancer has spread beyond the chest to other parts of the body.

  


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